In several interviews, Gavin Harrison has said that when he was a kid, he saw many drummers with his same age that seemed to have far more talent than him. In an interview with Drum! magazine he explains how he was terrified when he saw another kid playing to a piece in 11/8, while he didn’t even know what that was. He has also explained how he was impressed with some drummers who played apparently simple parts but putting little things here and there, brief unexpected jewels that sounded incredibly elegant. He was intrigued by drummers like Steve Jansen (Japan), who had no special abilities but was able to design rhythmic patterns that nobody else seemed to think of, placing the snare drum in odd places or moving other parts.
One day he decided to train his brain instead of his hands and feet, and started a long researching process about the possibilities of rhythmic alterations. Being already a professional, between 1989 and 1992 Harrison wrote a series of articles for the British Rhythm Magazine, getting his ideas together. These articles were the foundation for what would become his first book, this phenomenal Rhythmic illusions.
This is an important book. In it, Gavin Harrison creates a body of concepts and methodology for buiding illusory changes in the regular rhythmic pattern of a song. In a given moment, it seems that the drummer has left behind the tempo we assumed as normal, giving the impression that accelerates or slows down. Or perhaps he is suddenly changing the time signature. Or he seems to be flying over the bar. Any of these things happen while the other parts of the music remain unchanged, so our point of reference as listeners looks broken. It’s like if suddenly there’s no ground beneath our feet. And some moments later, all goes back to normal, the drummer has resolved the situation in a magic way and we feel comfortable again.
What’s really interesting about the concepts presented by Gavin Harrison is that we don’t need to learn weird, complex patterns. It’s not even a course on odd time signatures or polyrhythms. Most of these patterns are really simple, but they are rhythmic alterations in the way they are presented, in the form of displacements and modulations. Displacements consist in playing exactly the same simple pattern but moved to a different place in the bar by a certain amount of subdivisions. The effect is that the drummer seems to have moved forward or backwards in relation to the original rhythm. Modulations consist in grouping the subdivisions of a bar in a different way, creating the illusion of a tempo change.
There isn’t any really difficult pattern to play, but we do encounter mental barriers when adjusting the new rhythm in relation to our internal clock in some exercises. Knowing that, Gavin Harrison provides several tools for learning every group of exercises. We will be dealing with subdvisions, spacings and some (few) mathematics to establish the right relations. We will also study some examples with swing patterns, related tempos and different note groupings and polyrhythms. All this looks much more difficult stuff than it really is, and the book is very progressive and the challenge comes more from understanding the rhythmic changes and adjusting to them than playing the patterns.
Rhythmic Illusions comes with a CD with many of the exercises and some musical applications. The book has a lot of indications for each of them, with clear and detailed explanations. The foreword is written by the great Bill Bruford, a legendary drummer and creator of unusual rhythms. All the ideas shown by Gavin Harrison in Rhythmic Illusions will open an infinite field of rhythmic possibilities, real and effective. They can be applied to any style and will give us full command of what we are playing and the alterations we can create on them. Many of the things we have seen Gavin Harrison playing in Porcupine Tree or his albums with 05Ric come from these ideas.
You can access to a part of the content of Rhythmic Illusions for free by clicking this link to Google Books.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.